Tag Archives: Homelessness

The Reality of Food Stamps

I woke up today to a post on Facebook that said Indianapolis was going to provide breakfast and lunch to all students free of charge. One of the comments below that post made my heart hurt.

“We do have food stamps for those going through hard times. You know in our day we worked and provided for our kids. I am so afraid many parents are spending their money on themselves for alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs…”

Having grown up below the poverty level, I know my mom was forced to apply for Food Stamps while I was a kid. I didn’t have much to do with it at that time, but when I was older, I was released from the dreaded box store’s corporate slave camp and needed them.

I was released after five and a half years for too many customer complaints. At least that is what they put on the paperwork. The reality was, it was 2009 and the economy had tanked. The box store was trying to figure out how to save a dime and I had put myself in a bad position by missing too many days of work while my dad was dying. Apparently, the company comes before dying parents.

I ended up unemployed much longer than I expected and used up all of my unemployment benefits without being able to get a job. My friends helped as much as they could, but the economy was bad and I lived in a poor county in rural Missouri. There just weren’t enough jobs.

When I applied for assistance, I was depress, demoralized, humiliated, and afraid. I had been eating pancakes for a week because the mix and syrup were cheap and could be mixed with water.

The Social worker had been dealing with the situation for a while and was ticked off at the abuses she had been seeing as a result of corporate greed. She went about trying to get me what benefits she could.

I had no income at that time, so I qualified for the maximum Food Stamp benefits of $200. I was single, had no children and I wasn’t pregnant, so that was the only assistance I could get.

I took what I could get, but knew it hadn’t improved my situation much.

After all, I had zero income. That meant I couldn’t pay my utilities or buy basic supplies. With EBT, I could get food, but how would I cook without propane or electric? I couldn’t afford toilet paper or soap either and none of that was covered on EBT. The only reason I didn’t worry about being homeless was because I had managed to pay off my parents house.

The house had issues. The roof leaked and the contractor I’d hired to fix it disappeared with the money and never came back. It rained in my upstairs bedroom, so I moved down stairs. After a while it started raining down there, too.

My situation was not a good one. I had few friends, no family help, no resources, and no job or job prospects, and not enough money to move.

What I had was a leaky roof over my head, $200 a month in Food Stamps, severely damaged pride, and a bad case of clinical depression that made it hard to get out of bed and nearly impossible to keep looking for a job.

A friend who ate out a lot suggested I could cook for him and another friend and they would pay me. I bought the groceries and cooked at his place and they gave me money so I could buy necessities like soap and toilet paper.

When I was able to find a part time job, my food stamps dropped to $10 a month. It cost about that in gas to drive to the office, so I let my claim expire and tried to live on part time at a dollar over minimum wage.

The reason the woman feared that Food Stamp recipients were using their money for drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes is because of the brain washing perpetrated by mass media.

The media has villainized people on assistance programs by running stories about a few who abused the system. The American people have accepted those exceptions as a true representation of the whole because they never hear about the true majority. They don’t know people like me exist.

People who have never walked the rocky path cast judgment on those who do and feel superior to those who need the assistance without understanding what that assistance actually means or the reason it is needed.

I don’t smoke. I have had one alcoholic drink in the past six months. I do not and have never taken illegal drugs. I can’t afford medical care or prescriptions, so even the legal ones are off limits to me. But knowing what you know now, if I did take drugs, could you blame me for wanting the release from the pain and depression?

The next time you hear about someone who has abused the system remember me and know that there is another side to that story the media will never report. Learn to offer help and compassion, not judgement and the world will be a different place.

What is eating your soul?

I Call Bullshit

This is an excerpt from a story in the Kansas City Star from 2012 about U.S. Census findings.

“The poverty line is defined as an annual income of $23,492 or less for a family of four. A record 46.5 million Americans fall into that category, though the Census Bureau notes its pre-tax income calculations don’t include accumulated wealth, such as savings and home ownership. Nor does it include non-cash government aid such as food stamps and the earned income tax credit.”

Now let’s break it down and examine the statements in detail. We’ll start with, “The poverty line is defined as an annual income of $23,492 or less for a family of four.” If we round up to $23,500, that works out to one person who makes $1958 a month. $490 a week and $12.24 an hour.

As a single woman with no children or dependents and a strong tendency toward being a tightwad, I can tell you that I can’t live comfortably on that kind of an income. The U.S. Government expects not one, but four people to be able to live on that income.

Let’s run the numbers based on my living expenses. If you divide the $23,500 by four you get $5875.

I live in a studio apartment in Independence, Mo. and pay $400 a month in rent. That adds up to $4,800 of my budget, just to keep a roof over my head.

My water, sewer, and electricity is billed on the same bill and averages to $135 a month. That adds up to $1620 a year which means I just blew my government allotted budget by $545 and I haven’t even bought food yet.

I was going through a period of constructive discontent in 2013. My mom had just passed away and my tolerance for bullshit was at an all time low.

I wasn’t happy with my job because I got written up at the request of the security client for actually doing what I was supposedly being paid to do. I wanted to make a change and sat down to do my budget. This is the result as posted to my Facebook page at that time.

This is what real poverty looks like. This is also the reality of most of the citizens of the United States or the bottom rung employees as I call them.

Too much information to pass here.  The gist of it is, there is way to much money going out compared to what is coming in.

This is what poverty really looks like.

I don’t like looking at my budget because the reality is soul crushing. I actually had to step away from the computer to cry. After all, with that kind of reality, how can I even dream about getting ahead? I’m still crying, but I want to finish this. People need to see past the numbers to the reality they are inflicting on others.

The U.S. Government claims that a family of four is not living in poverty if they make $23,500 a year. I call bullshit. With extra shifts that year, I made about $22,000 and I still didn’t have insurance, retirement or much savings. I drove a car with well over 200,000 miles and prayed it didn’t break down, because if it did, I had no money to get it fixed or replace it. Nor did I have the income or credit history to get a loan for a different one.

One person can not in reality live on $23,500. There is no way a family of four could either.

The problem isn’t in the government though. The problem is in the private sector and promoted by the corporate culture of maximizing the profit margins and making sure the shareholders are happy.

The share holders clearly make more money than I do because they have enough money to invest in a company not their own. I can’t afford insurance, but they get first dibs on the profits made from my labors.

I left my job shortly after I made that budget and went to work as a process server. Unfortunately, my financial standing has suffered a severe down turn because of the robo-signing that occurred in the credit industry. Something, I will point out, done to maximize profits. Now I have to make a choice between working for slave wages under demoralizing, soul crushing conditions in the corporate slave camps or being homeless.

Now, if you will excuse me, I need to go cry again.

Did you drop anchor in a good spot or just a convenient one?

Home Is…

Yesterday’s post, Solving Homelessness, got me thinking about the definition of the word home. So I looked it up on Google.

Home: the place where one lives permanently, especially as a member of a family or household.

synonym: residence, place of residence, house, apartment, flat, bungalow, cottage; accommodations, property, quarters, rooms, lodgings; a roof over one’s head; address, place; informal: pad, digs; hearth, nest; formal: domicile, abode, dwelling, dwelling place, habitation

Most people in America would say a home is either a house or apartment. At least the people that didn’t spout off with “home is where the heart is.”

The synonym “accommodations” seems to fit my definition of home better. After all, a person living in a tent has a home, but by today’s standard would be considered homeless. Why?

Because most people anchor themselves. They need to be anchored to feel safe, but if they anchor themselves they don’t go anywhere just like a ship at anchor.

I’ve been reading the blogs of people who live in RVs, campers, and tiny homes and came across a blogger today who has lived in a camper van for 12 years. This is a choice he intentionally made and one that works for him. He likes it so much that he encourages others to join him and offers suggestions on how to make the leap from house/apartment dwelling to living in a vehicle. You can check out his blog here.

When I started telling my friends about creating The Wander Away, there were varying responses. One person said, “So you want to be homeless?” Since he has been living in a travel trailer for years now, I challenged his definition of homeless. He has a travel trailer, but he parked it in a semi-permanent manner. That was his choice. Our living arrangements would be similar, but he needs to be anchored. I don’t.

I told another friend and his response was, “You’re gonna be a gypsy?”

I hadn’t thought about it that way, but I guess I would fit the stereotype. I even read palms and tarot cards and know how to change the color of horses so I can conceal that it’s a stolen horse. These are all things the stereotypical gypsy was accused of, so I guess the title would fit.

Another friend immediately told me it was expensive, but he hasn’t done research like I have. I’m paying over five hundred dollars in rent and utilities. Expenses that would cease to exist when I move into The Wander Away. The blogger I mentioned above said he actually spends less in gas every month than he did when he had a house.

The reason? He doesn’t have a daily commute of forty miles. He travels for fifty miles or so and stays for a week or more. Then he moves on again. As a result, he has no where near the gas consumption he used to.

He also saves on utilities by installing solar power and following the ideal temperatures as the season progresses. He works his way south in the fall and wanders back to the north in the spring. He gets to see this beautiful country and stays mostly where it is free for him to stay which cuts down on his living expenses.

Imagine living in a National Park and waking up everyday to that kind of beauty. Imagine spending time in one location long enough to really get a feel for it and the people. One morning at a coffee shop with a coffee klatch will give you the inside scoop on everything you need to do while you are in the area. If you like it, you stay for a while. If you don’t, you move on to the next location.

Sounds like heaven to me, so I guess I am a gypsy, minus the stereotypical horse thievery which I suspect most times they were not guilty of in the first place. What they were guilty of was challenging societal norms. People are not comfortable with nomads, but that is exactly how the earth was populated. It was also how America was founded. People, unhappy with where they were, came here to live. Some of those people found their spot. Others are still looking for it.

Challenging societal norms seems to be my lot in life. I’ve been doing it since I was a kid and I think I’ll keep doing it until people wake up and accept that societal norms are not healthy nor one-size-fits-all. Some people just don’t fit nor do they want to live in a societally accepted box. Because let’s face it, that is what a house or apartment is. A box.

Maybe the people that said, “Home is where the heart is,” were on to something. Maybe instead of sticking people in boxes, we need to be asking “homeless” people what their definition of home is and then make that definition acceptable and possible.

My friend’s desire to end homelessness might be possible if we accept that people have different definitions of home.

How would you define home? Let me know on my Facebook page.

To change the world, invest in the people around you.

Solving Homelessness

A few days ago, I went to dinner with a friend and we got talking about my beliefs and observances. I talked about the book Get Out Of Your Own Way by Dr. Cooper and then asked the questions that got me thinking in the long term.

What would you do with your life if you had half a billion dollars at your disposal? How would you change the world for the better?

My friend has a wandering heart and said he would travel full time like I want to do. When I pressed him for an answer to the second question he said he would end homelessness.

That is a pretty lofty dream and since I’ve had that fear of being homeless for years, I’ve been thinking about it every since.

A few years ago I looked into buying a foreclosed house. It was small, only six hundred square feet on a half acre and the only thing I could find wrong with it was a broken drawer front in the kitchen. It was move in ready and I was ready to move in.

The monthly payments on it would have been less than three hundred dollars. I was and still am paying four hundred in rent on a studio apartment. I figured if I could afford four hundred in rent, I could afford three hundred in house payments and I’d have something to show for it.

I contacted my bank and the loan officer there pulled up my credit history then said, “You don’t have a lot of credit history.”

“I live on what I make and save for what I want,” I responded.

“Well, in order to get a better credit rating, you need to get more credit cards to establish it.”

I stared at the phone, then thanked him and hung up.

Take a minute to think about that. I did.

A person who lives within their means is rejected for a home loan because they think and plan ahead and don’t mooch off of others.

Yes, mooching. That is exactly what loans and credit cards are designed for. After all, what would you think if your friend came to you repeatedly through a month and said, “Hey, I can’t afford to buy these things, will you loan me the money?” That is exactly what people juggling credit cards are doing, mooching. They just aren’t mooching off friends.

That home buying experience got me looking at the banking industry and home loans in particular. Why would they reject people who live within their means?

Bank officers don’t sit down with you to look over your budget to see if you are a good option for a loan. They go straight to the numbers and generally don’t talk to you much. They analyze how much credit you have extended to you and whether you have been paying those bills. But in their quick numbers crunch, they don’t look at the most important factors.

They don’t ask how much money you make. They also don’t check to see if you are making your rent or house payments on time. Because let’s face it. When I’m broke, I and most Americans, prioritize keeping a roof over their head over paying a student loan or credit card payment.

The credit card companies know this, too. That is why they have such high fees for late or non-payment and are quick to report you to the credit bureau. They want you to put paying them at the top of your list of priorities because they don’t give a crap if you have a house. They care that they got their profits.

The mortgage issue ate at me for quite a while, then one day it clicked.

Banking is a for profit industry, too.

They are punishing people for living responsibly because those responsible people don’t ask for loans and therefore don’t pay interest and don’t make the banks any money.

That revelation ticked me off. Responsible, intelligent people are being punished while irresponsible people are rewarded for bad behavior. What the freaking hell is wrong with our country that this would not only be standard practice, but not questioned and challenged?

Then I realized, I’m ahead of my time. I’m still thinking outside that box everyone else finds so comfortable. Americans, as a people, don’t stop to think about stuff like this because they are tied up with the competition of getting to the next level in the game of life.

That game has rules that are being rewritten by industries like the banks. Those rules are not in the best interest of the greatest good. They are in the best interest of the greatest profit.

We can solve this problem by rejecting those rules and writing our own. We can do that by helping each other instead of relying on the profit mongers to do what we as a society should be doing.

That is the first step in solving homelessness.

If you own investment property, take a look at your renters. Many of them have lived in your houses for years and pay their rent on time every month but, for whatever reason, they can’t get a house loan. Why not talk to them about rent to own? After all, you can afford to by another house. They can’t.

The next step is buy up cheap rental houses in the worst part of town. Let the people pay rent for a year and establish their credit with you, then offer them the rent to own option. If you are really generous, make the year’s rent their down payment.

That one step could change the worst parts of town into nice neighborhoods and would leave the banks and profit mongers out of the equation.

Invest in the people instead of the property and you and I can change the world.